A Little Bit About Gardening

How to keep your house smelling good

indoor plantsWinter, the windows are closed.  It’s freezing and mucky outside.  The place we exist, our home, gets no air circulation, especially if you live with radiators.  Here are some helpful hints to keep the house smelling fresh in the dead of winter.

  • Keep a lively indoor garden. House plants can help circulate the air and take pollutants out, purifying the air indoors.roses
  • Buying fresh flowers, or forcing spring bulbs can add a pleasant scent to your home.paperwhite
  • Dusting.  I use a mixture of water, white vinegar, and a little essential oil. Dampen a cloth with a swig of vinegar and a dot of oil. Run the cloth under the faucet, wring, and dust.  It’ll leave your house smelling very sweet (if you use orange or geranium oil).che sleeping
  • Using a humidifier that has a well for essential oils.  Each night, I put a few drops of eucalyptus in my Vicks humidifier.  Eucalyptus is antibacterial, antiseptic and is a great decongestant (if you are feeling a bit under the weather).
  • Open windows every once in a while.
  • Scented candles as well as fires in the fireplace can make winter nights feel cozy and smell great.
  • Avoid harsh chemicals when cleaning.  Using baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils is all you really need to keep things clean.  A Guide to Green Housekeeping by Christina Strutt is my go to book.

Back of the Garden Plants

sundflowerI’m kind of a wild gardener.  I like the controlled chaos.  I want to have a garden that lends itself well to nature.  Birds, bees, bugs, cats, dogs, humans, I want them all to enjoy it.  Living in Chicago, if I wanted a completely natural Midwest garden, it would be filled with prairie natives.  I do have some, but I need those tropical annuals to make the garden pop!

My next quest for “new seeds to try,” I’m looking for back of the garden plants, the tallest plants.  The ones that will transform your yard from, “oh, cute little garden” to “oh, my god, you’ve really got a garden here!”  The tallest are always in the back.

Amaranth is IT (for me) this year!  It’s tall and it’s a super grain, packed with protein,  for either me or the birds.  There are several varieties in burgundy and orange.  Considering I’d like tall, 6 feet, I’m selecting Golden Giant, from Baker Creek.  Another tallish amaranth is Love Lies Bleeding, 3-5 feet with pink-purple cascades of flowers.

Either of these will work nicely with sunflowers and milkweed, two plants that I find are essential to a garden.


elephant earAll of these guys need full sun. I have a unique situation in my yard.  Like most city gardens, my yard gets shaded by a tall building.  So, I go from complete sun, and then almost complete shade (depending on the height of the sun in the sky throughout the growing season).  For a large background on the shady side, I plant elephant ear.  You can order tubers in colors of green or purple (almost black) shades.  They are great in larger containers or in the ground.  At the end of the season, the tubers will have multiplied, making it easy for you to dig up and have many more plants the following growing season.  I started with one little round tuber, now, I’ve got elephants growing out of my ears…ha ha…get it?

Stay tuned, more to come.

Happy New Year!

catalog pictureIt’s a new year, a new garden to plan!  I’ve been getting seed catalogs and spending many hours drooling over the images.  I’m really looking forward to try some new veggies and vibrant flowers. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share with you my ideas!

In progression with the growing season, I’d like a new radish.  I’ve been growing French Breakfast, which are fantastic, but it’s time for a change.  I’m thinking of a traditional bright red variety, cherry belle (Although I am drawn to the exotic looking watermelon mantonghong, with it’s pink inside and white exterior, it seems that the growing days (50-60) are a bit long for my garden.  I try to plant a warm crop after the radishes are harvested.).  Most likely, I’ll plant more French Breakfast along with a traditional cherry belle.

I’ve always grown green or spotted lettuce.  This year, I’d like to try the heirloom variety, Butterhead Marvel of Four Seasons.  An added bonus, Marvel supposedly won’t turn bitter when it gets warm and the plant begins to bolt.

As for early spring flowers, a mix of viola seeds in differing colors sounds delightful.  When I was young, I loved looking at “monkey faces.”  Botanical Interests offers a variety pack of colorful alternatives to purple and white.  To get a spring bloom, I may need to start some indoors.

More to share soon!


Christmas Ideas for the Gardener in Your Life!

beehouseIt’s the “most wonderful time of the year!”  Well, sort of.  It’s winter and gardeners are just not themselves this time of year.  There’s not much to do except turn the compost on warm days and feed the birds.  What to get the gardener for Christmas?!


Indoor gardening kits (these can range from a desk top size to a full indoor set up)

Houses for bees, butterflies, bats, or birds

Gift certificates to organic and heirloom seed companies (Baker Creek, Seed Savers)

Garden gloves (you can never have too many)

Sharpening tools for pruners and loppers

Waterproof shoes for summer and winter

Annual memberships to Botanic Gardens

Gift certificates to local nurseries (ones that don’t use pesticides on their seedlings)

Neem oil  (the only thing you need to control issues in an organic garden)


Garden Journals that provide a place to map out past, current, and future garden plans

Fancy tomato frames or other vegetable supports

Books on organic gardening specific to the region your gardener lives in

Magazine subscriptions to Organic Gardening or Chicagoland Gardening

Birding books

Epsom Salt Bath Soaks for tired muscles

xmas owl

Good Luck and Holidays!!!!


Time to Feed the Birds!

Sparrows in the snow

Sparrows in the snow

The first snow has fallen, and it’s time to fill the bird feeder for our feathered (and fluffy tailed squirrel) friends.  Most people aren’t fans of sparrows, but here in the city, I don’t get much variety.  Occasionally, I will have a few juncos and a cardinal couple stop by.  Last Spring, I even had a red winged blackbird visit my feeder, which was a pleasant surprise.   I envy those outside the city that get the chickadee and the blue jay.  I know there are birds around.  In Summer, I spy gold finches, robins, house finches, and hummingbirds.  In Winter, I just need a hobby and something to look out the back window at.

Yes, the squirrels raid the feeder!

Yes, the squirrels raid the feeder!

I do a mix of sunflower seed and a wild bird mix.  The squirrels come and empty the feeder for the best goodies, raisins, sunflower seeds, and peanuts.  In a way, I don’t mind, they scatter the seed so that the juncos, who are ground feeders, can peck and feed.  The biggest problem is the volunteer plants in the garden.  This year I bought a tray that catches the fallen seed.  As you can see in the picture, it seems more like a feeding hammock for the squirrels.  It was something to try.  Here’s to hoping for a few more interesting visitors this winter season.  Happy birding!

White Ladybug

20spottedWhen I think Ladybug, I think red or maybe orange.  I also know ladybugs are beneficial in the garden, feasting on aphids.  I was pretty surprised to see a little white ladybug this fall.  I did a little research to figure out just who he/she was.

And I found…Psyllobora vigintimaculata, the  twenty-spotted ladybug.  They can range in coloring from white to a yellowish, with also some orange at times.  The base coloring is always pale.  They eat fungus and powdery mildew.  Ah ha!  This makes sense!  It’s the end of the season, the zinnias, peonies, squash, and many others have powdery mildew, perfect for this little dude’s dinner.  They’re also tiny, and another name for them is “wee-tiny ladybug” (perhaps named by a Scot?).

To my delight, this reminds me to keep an organic garden.  Nature takes care of itself and has ways we may not see to keep order.  Eyes open!   Perhaps you’ll encounter this little guy in your garden.

Bulbs Before the Ground Freezes

bulbsToday, Chicago is getting a blast of sleet, snow, and gusts of 50mph winds.  All on Halloween, and all to remind us of the coming of winter.  If you have not planted spring blooming bulbs, you should now.  By tomorrow, I feel many of the annuals will be ready for the compost or the trash.  It’ll be time to dig up summer bulbs and tubers to store for planting next Spring.

If you are a little behind or just plain forgot to plant your bulbs, you still have a few options.  You can get them into the ground as long as the ground isn’t frozen solid.  Otherwise:

Force Bulbs

  • As a good rule of thumb, most any bulb will need 15 weeks of chilling.
  • Pot up your bulbs in a container, date, and place in the back of the fridge (away from fruits and veggies).  If the fridge is full, keep them in an unheated garage or attic where temps remain between 35-40 degrees.
  • Check the moisture from time to time.  They’ll need to have some moisture to grow a root system.
  • Remove chilled bulbs and water.  In 2-3 weeks, you should see some blooms.

Keep Bulbs chilled til Spring

  • Again, plant and chill the bulbs in the fridge or unheated area.
  • Once Spring arrives and you can dig into the ground, plant your pre-chilled bulbs, or let them come up in the containers you planted them in.
  • Wait for blooms.


I plan on forcing these pictured above.   I know by mid February, I’ll need them!

Fall Color


St. Croix River, looking over to the Wisconsin side.

Fall is the time of year when things wind down, the days get shorter, and we all start to feel a bit more cozy.  The sweaters come out, the hot drinks are served, and we spend time around the fire.  At this point, we harvest, enjoying our last goods from the summer.  The cold nights have nipped a few summer plants, and the mums and asters are all in their glory.

white aster and cone flower gone to seed

white aster and cone flower gone to seed

While I wait for the first frost, I gather seeds from my favorite plants of the past summer: marigolds, cosmos, cone flower, nasturtium, zinnia, and cleome.  Many of my plants I know will reseed on their own: bachelor button, alyssum, cone flower, cleome, aster, goldenrod, showy milkweed, rudbeckia, and love in mist.  I leave my garden a bit messy so I can enjoy watching the finches feed on the seed.  It’s a waiting time from Harvest to the first frost.  Annuals are still thriving, although leggy.  Kale and chard enjoy the cool season.  Squash are plump, yet their foliage is white with mildew.  It’s all bittersweet.


I always take a few clippings during this time too.  Many plants can be “cloned” from their parent.  Rooting stems of rosemary, fuschia, pineapple sage, begonia, and coleus in water can ensure a plant or two for next summer season.


Mallards and asters

Enjoy the fall outdoors, the purple and white of wild asters, the last ducks on the pond, the cool nights.  After the first frost, there’s lots to do to close the garden down, so take time now to rest up for the task.

There is a beautiful spirit breathing now
Its mellowed richness on the clustered trees,
And, from a beaker full of richest dyes,
Pouring new glory on the autumn woods,
And dipping in warm light the pillared clouds.
Morn on the mountain, like a summer bird,
Lifts up her purple wing, and in the vales
The gentle wind, a sweet and passionate wooer,
Kisses the blushing leaf, and stirs up life
Within the solemn woods of ash deep-crimsoned,
And silver beech, and maple yellow-leaved,
Where Autumn, like a faint old man, sits down
By the wayside a-weary.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



Our own little weary man, Che, who isn’t much a fan of the colder weather.

Moonflower, a Beautiful Vine


This is my first heirloom Moonflower!  I planted these seeds late in the season, mid-summer (the instructions were to sow as soon as the ground had warmed to 50 degrees); therefore, my late sowing begot late blooms.  The flowers are about 5-6 inches across and fragrant.  My understanding is that they bloom at night or on overcast days.  Living in the city, I think these guys are just blooming when they can.


Moonflower will need something sturdy to climb, like a fence or trellis.  They like full sun and moist soil.  The seeds are poisonous, so take that into consideration before planting (especially if you have children or pets).  They will readily reseed, which I’m looking forward to.  This will be a staple in my garden from here on out.


I planted this plant with hyacinth bean vine, a nice combination.  Both seeds are available at Botanical Interests.

Butterfly Garden

Yellow Swallowtail on Nasturtium

Yellow Swallowtail on Nasturtium

Nothing is better than sitting out in the garden with your coffee in the morning and watching a butterfly float by.  It just seems magical.  I’ve had red admirals, monarchs, swallowtails,  and even a mourning cloak visit throughout this season.  The key is to provide plants with nectar they love.

Monarch on Zinnia

Monarch on Zinnia

Key Plants for a Butterfly Garden

  • Zinnia
  • Cone flower
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Hibiscus
  • Lavender
  • Marigold
  • Rosemary
  • Verbena
  • Milkweed
  • Nasturtium
  • Rudbeckia
Female Black and Blue Swallowtail visiting Zinnias

Black and Blue Swallowtail visiting Zinnias

I’ve not been lucky enough to see them in caterpillar form.  From what I’ve read, most seem to lay eggs in early spring and hatch in the beginning of summer.  I do provide Milkweed for the ever dwindling population of Monarchs.  I’ve also plant parsley, dill, and carrot to host Swallowtail caterpillars.

Question Mark on Red Coneflower

Question Mark on Red Coneflower

I’m new to the Butterfly world, but I’ve read that the Question Mark feeds on rotting fruit, which luckily, I have in the form of Mulberries.  A tree has sprouted between me and my neighbor’s fence.  The birds love to get drunk off the over ripe fruit, apparently the Question Mark likes it too.

The Friendly Red Admiral

The Friendly Red Admiral

One of my favorite butterflies this season was the Red Admiral.  They like to perch on people.  To my surprise one morning, one of these guys just sat on the leg of my shorts as I watered.  Way to make me feel I’m a good gardener, Mr/Mrs. Admiral.

Keep a variety of blooming flowers throughout the entire summer,  and you’ll be sure to have visitors flipping and floating in.